The Corporate Arbegna
On Swinging Up the Corporate Ladder
I've always considered myself to be a fairly athletic person. Since I was a youngster, I dabbled in many of your "standard" sports - your track and field, tennis, basketball, volleyball, table tennis, and even played on my high-school's football (yes, the American version) team. Mind you, I had neither the aspiration nor skill level to participate in any of the aforementioned sports on a professional level, but held my own in the strictly-for-fun-or-money weekend-warrior level.
Upon entering the "corporate world" as a college intern, I was exposed to many new, different and exciting things. I learned the fine art of office politics, came to understand the importance of substance and form, and also for the first time ever, was introduced to the notion of golf as a sport. You cannot comprehend how foreign this concept was to me at the time. I remember being mildly amused back in those days watching people on television wearing funny clothes, hats and shoes and chasing a little white ball all across some long field. It always bewildered me that people would consider this even in the least bit athletic in nature and that they would also want to waste their day doing it. I didn't get the appeal, nor could imagine myself ever participating in such an immensely boring and tedious activity.
My perception of golf as a sport did not change for quite some time, even after my initial exposure to it as an intern. I saw many of the people in the office get together early on weekend mornings and knock off early on the occasional Friday afternoon to "hit the links." This still struck me as somewhat bizarre, as many of the people were young, several of them only a few years older than myself. My definition of fun in those days included anything but an afternoon or God-awful early morning golf. I had the perception that golf was for much older people who no longer had the physical ability to partake in more rigorous sports.
Over time, I also noticed a curious thing related to golf and my office - those who played golf with the more senior members of the firm tended to be in the inner-most circle in the office. They had access to a whole lot more information than those of us who were not (need I mention the old adage about the power of information?) They knew who was getting promoted first, what offers were going to be extended, which clients were being assigned to whom, who was going to be fired, which partner was leaving the firm, what new clients were coming on board, who the new recruits were, on and on and on. Of course, this information came very handy from the standpoint of enhancing one's own career and shaping it the "right" ways. It also gave one the all-important exposure to all the movers and shakers in the office.
It became very clear that playing golf was the unwritten prerequisite to developing one's career in the firm that I worked. As many of the readers of this article may feel, I chose to reject this notion and to buck the power structure. I mocked the people who went out for the periodic golf get-togethers. I resolved to build my base of support within the firm through other means - seeking out mentors, forming genuine friendships with those who had access to information, doing my homework, and doing good work. I didn't want to capitulate to what I saw as a very superficial approach to career development. I developed an even greater disdain for the game of golf, and vowed to myself that if I ever attained a position of power, that I would ban all future golfing activities around the firm. I would also outlaw any golf talk, golf attire and golf paraphernalia from entering the halls of the firm.
Well, I continued down this path of resistance for quite a while. I even subsequently left the first firm that I worked for and joined another one. It was in this second firm where I developed a strong friendship with another brother. He and I shared a lot in common and developed a respect and kinship with each other very quickly. We worked out together and played basketball on the weekends. He also played golf with some other buddies. Needless to say, the first time he mentioned that he enjoyed golfing, my immediate reaction was, of course, "You big sellout!!" It took a fair amount of convincing that golf could indeed be a fun game and one that challenges one's mind as well as body.
To make a long story short, I decided to give golf a shot (no pun intended.) It turned out to be an interesting (yeah, that's the term) game from the start. Although it's not really the mental gymnastics that some make it out to be, golf is indeed a cerebral exercise as much as it is anything else. I really enjoyed that challenge. I continued to develop my game, and yes, even bought those funny shoes (no nifty little hats or nickers for me, thank you.) I now play on a very regular basis, and have enjoyed playing with many good friends.
Now, you may naturally deduce the moral of my story to be, "Well, golf's not a bad game, and I can get used to it, and even use it to my advantage in a career setting." You could deduce that, but you'd be wrong. I still hold on to my somewhat idealistic views that what should get me ahead of the pack in my career is not my golf swing or score, but my innate abilities and performance.
I still do not consider myself part of the "inner circle", and rarely play with that crowd on fancy courses and hang out in expensive country clubs. Yet I humbly believe that I'm doing OK in my career. I'm the youngest Senior Vice-President in my group, and have broad-ranging responsibility for important projects in the company. If there's a moral to the story, it's that you should be more open-minded about golf than I was, and that if, by chance you get the opportunity to pick it up, you will more than likely enjoy it. You should continue to play, and if so inclined, make it pay for you in the office. Whatever you do, don't pick it up for the purely superficial goal of joining the in-crowd in the office. I think we'll all be the better off for it.